Societal issues related to sustainability 221 Sustainability

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The key underlying driver for upgrading food-chain waste is improved sustainability, linked to the consumer attitude of concern for the environment. Co-product exploitation and waste minimisation are vital to sustainable development. Literally, sustainability means 'the ability to sustain'. This implies maintaining something in the same state, or keeping it in the same state for a period of time, or providing support by giving help and encouragement or mobilising resources. In recent decades, the best-known and widely adopted definition of sustainable development was provided in the Brundtland report (1987), where sustainable development was defined as 'development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs'. Despite widespread application of this particular definition, there are many different interpretations, modifications and reformulations of what sustainability actually is (Gremmen and Jacobs, 1997). A World Bank inventory (Jacobs, 2001) listed no less than 190 different attempts to provide definitions. Indeed, sustainability has become linked to a large variety of human activities, concepts and concerns, ranging from biodiversity preservation, through to corporate social responsibility. In addition, sustainability has become a priority for the world's policy makers. The concept is now at the centre of regulatory activities in many countries around the world and has, as a consequence, become a societal norm. Although there is no single definition of sustainability over all domains, for the remainder of this chapter we refer to the Brundtland definition as a working definition.

Generally, people will do what they believe is 'right', i.e. whatever is consistent with their personal beliefs and/or the norms of the society in which they live. In the view of many stakeholders, including consumers, the food production system has ceased to be sustainable. The development of increasingly intensive and specialised forms of agriculture has culminated in what some refer to as 'industrial food production' or 'chemical farming systems' (Nap et al., 2002). The farm is viewed as a factory with inputs and outputs, aiming at increased yields with reduced costs, often by exploiting the economies of scale. It is accompanied by use of and reliance on agro-chemicals, large-scale mono-cropping, and mechanisation and energy consumption. The primary objective of such agricultural systems is to produce as much food and fibre as possible, for the least cost. According to Lyson (2002), 'current conventional agriculture is anchored to the scientific paradigm of reductionist experimental biology, in combination with the reduc-tionism of neoclassical economics, driven by continued (desire for) industrialisation.'

Although successful in the past in terms of improving food security and food safety, virtually every aspect of conventional agricultural practice is viewed by many as problematic in terms of sustainability. The problems centre on both the environmental aspects and on the social and community aspects of food production. For example, current high-intensity practices in the agri-food sector not only have a negative impact on the supply and quality of water, these practices also cause erosion, unfertile soils, contamination by pesticides, excessive use of synthetic chemicals, and various levels of pollution of groundwater, soils and atmosphere. Arguably, existing methods of food production may contribute to negative changes within the ecosystem.

At the present time, there are increased efforts within the food industry to develop more sustainable food production practices, in part a response to consumer and regulatory demands. At the top of the sustainability agenda is conservation of resources related to energy and water use. Although sustainability in its broadest sense focuses on the conservation of natural resources, many of the goals of the food industry specifically reflect the need for increased sustainability in the sense of renewable resource use and a significantly reduced environmental burden of food production. International commitments towards improved sustainability are now underpinned by demanding legislative controls to minimise the impact of waste on the environment and human health. In the European Community (EC), the importance of reducing waste has been reflected in stringent legislation, particularly EC Council Directive 1999/31/EC (26 April, 1999) to reduce biodegradable waste disposed to landfill, 35% of 1995 levels by 2016, and the Hazardous Waste Directive (91/689/EEC) which includes cereal and vegetable food processing wastes. The Euro-legislation is implemented via appropriate national regulations (such as the UK Landfill Tax currently 20 euros per tonne). Across European Union (EU) member states, the amount of organic waste sent to landfill will be severely limited in the future. The impact of the legislation on food processors is also being increased by other regulations in the area of food safety. For example, there are now restrictions on feeding many co-products to animals, and animal husbandry across Europe has been reduced as a result of public concerns such as dietary well being and safety issues such as BSE (Windhorst, 2001). As a consequence, despite their valuable constituents, agro-waste co-products currently represent a substantial negative cost within the food industry. A sustainable future for many food processors requires that these co-products are exploited in order to prevent them from becoming waste.

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